Moving image stored in bacterial DNA

In the end, the GIF played back with 90 percent accuracy. And even when the team uploaded the movie backward, they could view the galloping horse in reverse.
By Harry Marcolis | Jul 17, 2017
In a stunning achievement, scientists have successfully inserted a five-frame animated GIF of a galloping horse into bacterial DNA.

The experiment is described in the journal Nature.

A team from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, started by breaking each frame into a grid of 36 pixels by 26 pixels, according to The Los Angeles Times. Then they color-coded each pixel using the nucleotides A, C, T, and G.

The scientists then used the genome editing tool CRISPR to insert the pixel codes into the DNA of E. coli bacteria. By this method, they were able to "upload" the movie at a rate of one frame per day.

In the end, the GIF played back with 90 percent accuracy. And even when the team uploaded the movie backward, they could view the galloping horse in reverse.

"DNA has a lot of properties that are good for archival storage," said lead author Seth Shipman, a postdoctoral fellow in genetics at Harvard Medical School, in the Times report. "It's much more stable than silicon memory if you wanted to hold something for thousands of years."

Shipman's larger goal is to create miniature biological recorders that can gather data on the internal workings of cells. He is particularly interested in how brain cells mature into different types of neurons.

"There are certain places we can't go that a cell can go," Shipman said. "The brain is locked away inside the skull, and these changes happen rapidly and all at the same time."

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